Presidential Debates: the benefits of hosting them

The Presidential debates between former Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush were held at three universities in October 2000 -the University of Massachusetts in Boston, Wake-Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Each candidate discussed matters such as foreign policy, the national budget and social programs in order to convince the American people that he was the most worthy man for the job of President.

How were the universities affected by the debates? What might the University of Miami expect to gain from hosting the first 2004 Presidential debate?

“It was a great opportunity for the students, faculty and community. You learn so much -on TV, you only get part of the story,” said Kevin Cox, vice president of Public Affairs and director of Media Relations at Wake Forest University. “It involves the entire community ultimately, and many positive things happened as a result.”

According to Cox, classes were created, various events scheduled and technology related activities sprung up- all inspired by the debate held at Wake Forest. Other positive side effects included increased awareness of the city and the University, higher numbers of applications and increased political awareness and activism among students.

Steve Givens, assistant chancellor at Washington University, stated similar positive results.

“A debate brings a lot of attention to the University, although we’ve never tried to measure it in terms of long term effects,” Givens said.

Washington University will again host a debate this year, marking the third time that a Presidential debate is held at the University. When asked why the school has been chosen so many times, Givens replied that he didn’t know the exact reason, but it may have something to do with the first time they hosted the event.

“In 1992, we were given only one week’s notice before the debate and we made it happen,” Givens said. “That began a relationship with the Debate Commission-they knew that we were capable of pulling it off.”

The debate at UMass-Boston was put on in spite of last minute decisions as well. It was the first debate ever held at a public university, and the only debate held in New England that year. In Jan. 2000, the Commission decided that UMass-Boston, together with the John F. Kennedy Library, would put on the first debate. In September, George W. Bush decided that he didn’t intend to go to Boston, and then two weeks before the debate, the parties ultimately agreed that it was to be held there.

Annemarie Lewis-Kerwin, assistant vice chancellor for University Communications and debate coordinator, discussed the effects of the debate on UMass-Boston in a press release.

“The debate really gave an opportunity for people who might normally never have the chance to work together, to do so. I think we have already seen this sense of cooperation and appreciation surrounding the debate continue into the day-to-day life of the campus,” Lewis-Kerwin said.

Although cost estimates were not given, it was apparent that last second planning and preparation combined with the magnitude of such an event proved costly.

“We’ve never released a total figure regarding the debate,” Cox said. “We sought out sponsors to cover expenses-this helped greatly.”

“In spite of things, we think that the debate was definitely worth the effort, hassles and money put into it,” Givens said.

Teressa Dalpe can be contacted at